The researchers, at the University of Colorado Boulder, found that the supplement — called nicotinamide riboside — mimics some of the effects of caloric restriction and activates several identical biological pathways.
Studies of caloric restriction — which have been done mainly in rodents and fruit flies and not so much in humans — indicate that reducing daily calorie intake by a third may delay the aging process and lengthen lifespan.
The new study found that taking nicotinamide riboside supplements significantly improved blood pressure in people with mild hypertension, or elevated blood pressure.
Should the results be confirmed in a larger clinical trial, the researchers think that they could have important implications in biomedicine, such as increasing treatment options for elevated blood pressure.
Elevated blood pressure and stage 1 high blood pressure are now defined as a blood pressure of 120/80 or 139/89 millimeters of mercury, respectively, which — although is not high enough to justify medication — is high enough to raise the risk for a heart attack or stroke.
Currently, the recommended options for people with elevated blood pressure include changes to diet and increasing physical activity.
Senior study author Doug Seals, who is a professor and researcher in the Department of Integrative Physiology, and his colleagues report their findings in a paper due to be published in the journal Nature Communications.
Stiff arteries, blood pressure, and aging
In a Western culture, stiffer arteries and the high blood pressure that results from them as we age is so common that it is accepted as a normal consequence of aging.
For example, the American Heart Association’s (AHA) explanation of high blood pressure states, “The normal aging process can cause the big elastic arteries to become stiff over time.”
In the United States, an estimated 103 million adults have high blood pressure, and this figure is expected to rise as the population continues to age.
However, there is evidence that stiff arteries and high blood pressure are not necessarily a normal consequence of aging.
Although genetics plays a role, preserving artery health as we reach our 70s and beyond also depends on things that we can do something about — such as lifestyle and diet.
Nicotinamide riboside is a trace nutrient present in certain foods such as cow’s milk and in higher concentrations in dietary supplement form.
Studies have indicated that the nutrient contains “unique properties as a vitamin B-3” that include: raising insulin sensitivity; boosting the effects of exercise; protecting the brain; and resisting the harmful effects of a high-fat diet.